many ways, the 2004 Lok Sabha verdict is a wakeup call.
In 1996, Congress party suffered as liberalization was seen
as being insensitive to the needs of the poor. Again in
2004, the verdict in some measure reflected the failed consensus
around reform. A high growth rate of 8.5 percent, competent
economic management, political stability, and proven capacity
to leverage diplomatic and strategic clout for economic
gain would normally have ensured the reelection of any government.
But like in 1996, the failure to craft an economic agenda
which addresses the concerns of both growth and equity in
a credible manner led to an unexpected outcome. The fact
that, broadly, the anti-establishment vote of the poor and
marginalized sections led to the outcome of 2004 cannot
this backdrop, this year's budget is the first serious effort
after 1991 to combine growth with concerns for equity. But
for this to be durable and successful, we need three conditions
to be fulfilled. First, equity should not be confused with
populism. Meaningless subsidies which do not touch the lives
of the poor and irresponsible slogans deepening the class-divide
and provoking hatred do not constitute pro-poor policies.
The best antidote to poverty is the creation of genuine
opportunities for vertical mobility. Education, which allows
the fulfillment of human potential and promotes skills;
and healthcare which eliminates avoidable suffering and
prevents immiserization and indebtedness, are the two keys
to unlock the door to prosperity. These two, coupled with
basic infrastructure which facilitates investment and growth,
will lead to productive employment and poverty reduction.
mere accent on education and healthcare, and even substantial
additional allocations, will not guarantee desired outcomes.
Our public service delivery is in shambles, and these two
critical sectors are the worst sufferers. Accountability
in education is virtually absent, and enrollment, or even
retention of a child in school, does not necessarily impart
functional literacy, let alone quality education and skills.
Given the crisis in higher education, many teachers themselves
lack conceptual clarity. In healthcare, the situation is
even more gloomy. Public health systems have, in general,
collapsed, and the only tangible output is an occasional
immunization drive, or family welfare campaign in some pockets.
Accountability, choice, competition and quality are all
conspicuous by their absence. Any meaningful effort to accelerate
social development must strive for these through institutional
reforms. Mere money does not take us far, though larger
allocations are absolutely necessary.
we need a stable political climate and peaceful and cordial
atmosphere which promotes broad national consensus on vital
issues, even as there is space for competition and political
contestation. Democratic politics is about challenging status
quo and promoting creative tension, while at the same time
avoiding conflict, breakdown of dialogue and violence. Our
democracy is robust and genuine precisely because we have,
in a large measure, succeeded in allowing tension without
conflict. Peaceful transfer of power, and underlying respect
for the democratic rules of the game have been the hallmarks
of Indian democratic experiment. The internal emergency
of 1975-77 was a regrettable departure from this otherwise
healthy norm. True, there were aberrations like the Jagadambica
Pal episode in UP in 1998, or the August 1984 coup in Andhra
Pradesh. But the same elements in the system acted quickly
to defuse the situation. When such correctives have not
been applied, the nation has paid a grievous price.
in general, the past fifteen years have seen a measure of
stability and respect of the rules of the game. All parties
came together to enact an excellent political funding law,
creating tax incentives for donors. The much-abused Article
356 has at last become what Ambedkar hoped, a dead letter.
Governors started behaving like Constitutional heads of
state, not omnipotent agents of an all-powerful and partisan
Union. Defections have drastically come down, and even party
splits are no longer possible with the 97th Constitutional
Amendment. A healthy and more balanced federalism has taken
shape in the past decade.
all these wholesome developments are in jeopardy. Mischievous
and misplaced acts of nominated and partisan state governors,
ostensibly in order to protect 'secularism', have done immense
damage to our polity. In the short term, they undermine
the credibility of the Manmohan Singh government severely,
whether or not the Union government is involved in these
unholy deeds. And this enormous price is paid for petty
short-term political gains to a few legislators in small
states. With friends such as these, the UPA government does
not need any enemies. And the political heat and viciousness
generated now endanger the robust economic growth and the
welcome emphasis on equity concerns and social development.
The belated steps of UPA leadership to retrieve the situation
are welcome and necessary.
and for all, the major political parties and the influential
players who have stakes in our future as a nation must come
to their senses. Is power at any cost the end of our pursuits,
or is it a means for the larger goals of nation-building,
economic growth, and opportunities for all?